1776 … I was walking by the Bean the other day and saw David Brankley reading 1776 by David McCullough, a prize-winning historian. He kindly offered to let me read his copy when he was done, and I have to say, it’s one of those reads you gobble up in one sitting – or at least that’s what I did. Spending a cold, blustery April Monday diving into our historical past … McCullough spins a fascinating narrative, interspersed with documents from diaries of generals and soldiers. His focus is the year that we remember as the beginning of our union, when the Declaration of Independence was signed. But it was a very difficult year for the colonies that saw George Washington’s rag-tag Continental Army on the run, after an initial victory in Boston. Losing several important battles and then managing to pull a victory out of the jaws of defeat at Trenton. It was a year that defined the revolution – risky, daunting and inspiring. I highly recommend it … Being in politics, the founding of the nation has fascinated me. Realizing our Constitution was written by slave-owners and our Bill of Rights was originally only for land-owners, not all citizens, it’s easy to see that our nation has evolved and continues to evolve. As Pres. Obama likes to say, “We are an imperfect union.” It makes me realize a strict interpretation of the Constitution is probably not relevant to today’s world. Which is to say, America was a radical idea back in the 18th Century. But these days, some of its institutions seem anachronistic and in need of updating – like our winner-take-all system of representation … McCullough’s book taught me some new wrinkles in our revolutionary story. William “Billy” Lee was Washington’s personal servant who accompanied him at all times, on the battlefield, on all-day Virginia fox hunts, and at Mt. Vernon. His was a shadow presence to our first President that I’d never known about … It was interesting to read about blacks in the Continental Army – mostly among the New Englanders, as Virginians and other Southerners – being slave-owners – were deeply conflicted about African-Americans. And even more interesting to read that Washington penned a personal thank you to Phillis Wheatley, a young black poet from Providence, for some verse she sent to him. He thanked her for her “encomium and panegyrick” – and, most amazingly, wrote the letter the night before he was going to attack Gen. Howe’s forces who were occupying Boston … It’s easy to have preconceptions about what people were or weren’t, in the past, but it’s always sobering to find out exactly how inconsistent and complicated reality was in the times before us.
NEW LEAF GARDENS … My friends Alan Wartes and Issa Forest are urban agriculturalists. For the last few years they’ve been growing a lot of their own food in a backyard garden in North Denver. Just this year they’ve expanded their operation to some church land in their neighborhood … Since revolution seems to be our theme this week, here’s excerpts from an essay called “The New Agriculture – A Revolution” that Alan wrote for Energy Bulletin, an on-line journal … Visit his website at www.newleafgardens.org
ALAN WARTES … New Leaf Gardens is more than a novelty. We are part of a movement springing up spontaneously all over the country that is revolutionizing how we grow and share food; how we occupy the land where we live … how we define economic value; how we relate to each other in small, local communities whose shape and character are determined by common need; and how we think of "power", both political and economic. The positive ripples that radiate outward from the simple act of taking back our food supply can't be overestimated. The centralization and globalization of everything – even the most basic necessities of life – is coming to a rapid and jarring end. Of that there is no doubt. The concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a tiny elite has finally reached its apex, having run into the same laws of physics and ecology that govern all complex systems. The capitalist empire was built on the assumption that technology (powered by fossil fuels) had rewritten the rules and made us different from previous imperial projects. We were wrong. The costs of this mistake are coming due, and the straining infrastructure of globalization is coming down. The forces making it so are as fundamental and inexorable as gravity. As in all moments of epic change, this historic passage is filled with both peril and promise. The dangers are very easy to imagine. So is the possibility of creating a better, saner way of life out of the ruins. We will either be crushed in the coming collapse, or we will build viable local alternatives to the failed paradigm now crumbling around us. It is that simple … The good news is that the value of growing our own food doesn't end at the dinner table. We all decry the loss of community cohesion in our society, and many well-intentioned people have tried to do something about it. It turns out that food is the missing catalyst. It is the nucleus around which all sorts of vital community connections can and will form. In just a few short days of working in the New Leaf Gardens field -- a highly visible spot in our neighborhood -- we have met more of our neighbors than in the past six years of living together … Just wait until we have a monthly neighborhood potluck, or hold a harvest festival! Wait until we put up a "barter board" where people can come to connect the dots between what they have to offer and what their neighbors need … A weekly bicycle repair clinic? A food co-op to procure the things we can't grow? … The list goes on and on, and where it leads is to the rebirth of this community as a place where people know each other, trade with each other, look out for each other. As that takes root, "globalization" will seem more and more like a weird Alice in Wonderland hallucination
THE TALKING GOURD
Lines written to
Proceed, great chief
with virtue on thy side.
Thy every action
let the goddess guide.